Homer City has caught up with Indiana and Blairsville in terms of public arts beautification. Five brand new murals are scattered throughout the side streets of the little town.
The mural projects scattered throughout the area are part of a larger public arts project led by the Creative Spaces Collective, which is a partnership of community organizations, artists and patrons of the arts working together to organize, expand and fund initiatives that promote art education and public art experiences across Indiana County.
These CSC projects fall under a larger Pennsylvania public arts program called the Creative Communities Initiative, which provides multi-year funding for place-based, community-driven, arts-based projects. According to the CCI website, the goal of the initiative is to serve as a catalyst for “social cohesion, livability, and community and economic development.”
Hannah Harley, an Indiana native, served as project manager for the Homer City mural initiative. She is currently the executive director of the CSC, as well as the founder of the Spruce Arts Residency, which is another partner of the CCI. The Spruce Arts Residency sought to bring artists into the area on a temporary basis, providing them space to work and live. One such nomadic artist based in upstate New York, Ramiro Davaro-Comas, joined the Spruce Arts Residency program in March 2020. He’s been professionally involved in public arts projects and murals for more than 12 years.
“Ramiro saw my residency program and reached out because he runs an agency for traveling artists,” said Harley. “He wanted to sit down in one place to work for a while. They fundraised their own murals in Indiana. That’s how the first wave of murals came.”
“Painting murals in the big cities stinks,” said Davaro-Comas. “Firstly, there’s no space. No one cares, no one says thank you, there’s trash all around your work within days. But the folks in this area have been incredibly receptive and enthusiastic about this arts project. I’ve seen the difference already. It’s amazing.”
Davaro-Comas led the Blairsville mural project in 2021, and the outpouring of support from the community continued to stoke the creative fire.
“I wanted to make it a goal to return every year to facilitate more projects for myself and my group, or for local artists or students,” said Davaro-Comas.
“I love Indiana County,” he continued. “I really haven’t found a place with such amazing people.”
Funding for the public arts projects is primarily through the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, the Indiana County Endowment and GoFundMe donations from generous supporters.
“So many ideas sprouted from that generous grant from the Council for the Arts in 2021,” Harley said. “It has allowed us to invest in local people and bring outside artists in to share with us their expertise as we continue this project.”
Harley said the CSC has also introduced an online proposal portal, accessible to all, that allows anyone to pitch a creative idea they’d like to see come to life in their community.
“Hannah reached out to me and said that some representatives from Homer City were looking to get some murals put up,” said Davaro-Comas. “I then reached out to a few artists that I thought could bring some unique art to the area, and they were on board!”
Davaro-Comas facilitated this through a nonprofit organization he started with fellow artist Grace Yang called Super-Stories, which focuses on community storytelling through public art, educational workshops and artist partnerships.
“When you first introduce public art to an area, you have to play it a little safe,” Davaro-Comas said. “We’re not making political or personal murals. We’re making the most inoffensive art possible, just trying to represent the community and the people and animals and nature.”
Davaro-Comas is one of three artists who contributed to this project. The other two are Frank Chappell (known professionally as “Frank the Painter”) and Kristin Scholz (known professionally as “Doom”), both from Philadelphia.
“When communities don’t have public art, it’s important that the artwork first shown to them is high quality,” said Davaro-Comas. “Change is really hard for people these days. That’s why we start off with experienced artists who can come in with their expertise and get the job done.”
Davaro-Comas is responsible for the wide “Homer City” mural, featuring an assortment of plants and vines tangled throughout the letters. Chappell did the raccoon and bird mural. Scholz did the bats and the fox.
“I was working on the mural one day and the school bus drove by,” said Davaro-Comas. “This little kid stuck her head out the window and was shocked and excited to see a big mural in her town. It makes you wonder whether some people have ever been exposed to art like this. I love that these kids can have pride and be like, ‘Yeah, that’s my mural. I’m from Homer City.’”
Project partners of the Indiana County CCI are the Creative Spaces Collective, Spruce Arts Residencies, Indiana Arts Council of Pennsylvania, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Artists Hand Gallery, Clark Gallery, Dripped in the Road, River Valley School District, Blairsville Borough Council, Blairsville Community Development Authority and the Indiana County Conservation District.
For more information about the CSC, visit their website at https://www. creativespacescollective.com/ or the CSI at https://www.arts.pa.gov/Pages/Creative-Communities.aspx.
Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 31 morning to celebrate Wave Ryder Sweet Shoppe’s grand opening along Main Street in Homer City.
The shop has a carnival-style concession stand that includes Penn State ice cream, nachos, cotton candy, kettle corn and fresh-squeezed lemonade; a pastry section; a candy wall that includes old-fashioned candies; a gift wall and pre-made gift baskets; and its own candle line with sweet shoppe-style scents.
The store’s fall/winter hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
HOMER CITY — Borough homeowners may face a tax increase of up to $70 on average in 2023 to help the town balance its inflation-stricken budget for the coming year.
Borough Manager Rob Nymick told the town council Nov. 1 that rising gasoline, electricity, healthcare and other insurance costs have all gone up at rates that all consumers have experienced. The borough also faces new expenses for cyber security improvements for its online systems.
Ordinary sources of revenues look to be normal next year. But expenses, Nymick said, are on pace to exceed income by $120,000.
The biggest is a 27 percent increase in the amount that the borough is obligated to pay into the retirement fund for the borough police — from $86,000 to $109,000 in the coming year.
Nymick said he was far from offering a draft that the council would traditionally ratify for public review and comment in November. Instead, he asked council’s Finance Committee to set a meeting to prepare a balanced spending and revenue plan for display and adoption by late December. The borough isn’t in danger of missing the Dec. 31 deadline to adopt its budget.
The borough budgeted $639,000 for its expenses this year. Nymick told council with some luck, Homer City could avoid cashing in a certificate of deposit for money to pay bills before the end of the year.
In other business:
• Council accepted with regret the retirement notice of road crew worker Russell “Butch” Hiner, who tendered his resignation effective Feb. 14 but told the borough that he’d finish work Nov. 10 and take his accumulated vacation and other leave.
Hiner has worked more than 41 years for the borough.
Nymick clarified for council that Hiner would remain available for emergency call-out during the winter for snow plowing or water system repairs until his official departure.
Council accepted Nymick’s recommendation to hire George Hiner to the labor crew when Hiner departs.
• Nymick told council of the recent “three days of Hell,” when representatives of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspected the Central Indiana County Water Authority treatment plant.
In their on-site tests, Nymick said, DEP inspectors confirmed that the water system met required standards for purity of water going into the system for public consumption.
“We’re better than specs,” Nymick said. “But they couldn’t understand how we did it.”
Nymick said the “chlorine contact time” for water in the treatment system called into question.
“All I can say is they were confused by our process,” he said. “It’s about contact time and settling time, and they’re going to force us into buying a new clarifier and that’s going to cost $1.5 million.
“The problem is everyone knows chlorine is a carcinogen, so you really have to be careful about how much chlorine you dump into it. We’re meeting all regulations; it’s just that no one understands how.”
“Now we have to go prove how we’re meeting it. Because we are! I was there. They ran the test results and said, ‘Yeah, you’re meeting them, but we don’t know how.’ So what do they want me to do?”
Nymick said DEP has not yet sent a report of its inspection to the authority.
• The opening of Christmas season observances was set by council Tuesday evening.
Homer City’s community Light-Up Night and parade is set for Friday, Dec. 2. A craft bazaar is set for 5 to 8 p.m. in the fire station; a parade on Main Street is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.; town leaders will light the Christmas tree at the fire station at about 6:30 (following the parade), then award the annual Good Citizen Award.
Police Chief Anthony Jellison said the Good Citizen nominations will be accepted from today through Nov. 21.
Council formally approved the closure of West Church Street from Main Street to Kunkle Avenue, in the vicinity of the fire station, on the evening of the light-up festivities.
• Mayor Arlene Barker and several council members reported on the opening of Wave Ryder Sweet Shop on Main Street, a throwback ice cream, candy and nostalgic novelty shop operated by Gilbert Woodley.
• State Rep. Jim Struzzi presented a citation from the state House of Representatives saluting the 150th anniversary Homer City’s establishment as a borough.
The citation noted the role of various industries that have flourished in Homer City since its formation in 1872.
“The valuable presence in this commonwealth of Homer City Borough is a community which has always been blessed with steadfast citizens, concerned community and civic-minded leaders, lasting traditions and a resilient spirit that have helped it to thrive for 150 years and prepare it to meet the challenges of the future,” Struzzi read from the citation.
Council President Matthew Black said state Sen. Joe Pittman also had sponsored a commemorative citation approved in the state Senate.
A Christmas in the Village event will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 10, at the Black Lick Fire Hall, 151 Main St., Blairsville.
There will be a scavenger hunt in the morning/afternoon, with answers to be handed in at 4 p.m. Directions can be picked up at the Burrell Township Library and the churches. At 4 p.m., hot dogs, chips, desserts and drinks will be served. There also will be the opportunity to decorate your own sugar cookies.
There will be crafts, photo booths and music. The Christmas-tree lighting will take place at 6:30 p.m., with caroling after.
A special guest will be coming to town — could it be Santa Claus?